Tuesday, November 09, 2010


Thanks to Danielle for reminding me of this great essay:

"In short, I had always believed that the world involved magic: now I thought that perhaps it involved a magician."

GK Chesterton in "The Ethics of Elfland" (Orthodoxy)

“It’s magic,” exclaimed my son-in-law, as he watched me buff his plastic headlight to a soft new glaze. Of course he did not really mean what he said, for he knew that it was not magic. In point of fact he had watched me smear toothpaste on the plastic casing and then rub it thoroughly before buffing it off. What he was saying was that he thought the results were profoundly unexpected, and therefore he used the term “magic” to explain it.

His use of the term magic got me to meditating on the word and its apparent overuse in our world today. From the viewpoint of my cats or my dog, much of what we do must appear magic to them. I push a button on the wall and the garage door opens allowing the cats out. So far as I have been able to tell, the cats have never connected the push of the button to the opening of the door. Similarly, in my home office I am able to start music at the click of my mouse, something my dog apparently does not appreciate, neither understands. It must appear magic to him.

We know that it is not; but from the viewpoint of the animal perhaps it appears so. Similarly, what we falsely ascribe as magic could rather be just something about which our understanding is limited. In the Old Testament, we are told that Balaam’s ass begins to speak to him. Someone watching might falsely conclude that magic was somehow used to allow the ass to do something physically impossible, not to mention perhaps beyond its mental capability. Under the normal rules of creation it must be quite impossible for an ass to speak; much less to berate his owner for hitting him. Yet when God acts the normal rules of creation can be suspended.

Daniel was thrown into the den of lions, yet they shut their mouths and did not eat him. I find myself wondering whether they were blinded somehow to his presence, or were they rather fooled into thinking he was their friend. Did they nuzzle him all night, or ignore him totally? The Biblical account is silent and I can only speculate, but one thing is certain: it is almost as “magic” for such an event to happen. Of course I do not mean that in the literal sense, but I cannot see the “button” that God pushed to close the lion’s mouths, nor do I even understand that that button exists. Rather I see the profoundly unexpected and marvel.

In Moses’ being called, he saw the burning bush. Why did he turn aside? Because the bush did not burn up, and if Moses knew anything, he realized the rules of his world were not being followed. Again the Marvel of creation, God himself, chooses to suspend the “rational” viewpoint of our world, and shows me once more that my world is not all that it appears to be. Magical? If the definition of magical is that I do not understand the profoundly different results, then it is indeed magical.

But I do know the God who suspends the rules, and that explains the trick. The world is coming to a time soon when regular rules will be suspended. First for seven years of judgment of the world; then for the reign of Christ on earth itself. I shall be at His feet in those days, wondering and marveling at His mighty acts. I wonder how many “rational rules” of our world will be suspended then, and how often we will see what would seem to be “magic”.



Danielle said...

Dad, do you remember the chapter called "The Ethics of Elfland" in Chesterton's Orthodoxy? Chesterton asserts that even the FOLLOWING of the "regular rules" is in a God's "magic"--we are just so used to it that we forget to notice. It's a good chapter, and I think a nice complement to your thoughts here.

Mr. D said...

No I do not remember it. Going to look for it now. I surely enjoyed Orthodoxy. Thanks for the reminder.Praying for you.